Sunday, October 17

“We looked identical”: a man’s discovery of slavery, family and football | Football

METERalik Al Nasir believed that soccer would always be part of his life. Born in Toxteth, he supported Liverpool, regularly going to Anfield to see the great team of the 70s with Emlyn Hughes, John Toshack and Kevin Keegan. He loved being among the Kop fans and does not recall seeing his team lose.

Al Nasir was kicked out of Anfield by racists in 1977 and has not seen a game there since, but he has discovered a family soccer bond that runs deeper than any visit to a stadium. the author, poet and doctoral student at the University of Cambridge has established that he is related to Andrew Watson, the world’s first black international footballer.

Watson, the son of a slave owner, was from Demerara, in what was then British Guiana and is now Guyana, and was captain of Scotland in the 1880s. He also played for London Swifts, Corinthians, Park Grove and Queens Park , where he was secretary of the club. The defender led Scotland to a 6-1 victory over England in 1881.

A 2002 BBC documentary on black footballers by Scottish football writer Stuart Cosgrove alerted Al Nasir, who changed his name from Mark Watson when he became Muslim in 1992, to the existence of Andrew Watson.

“There were illustrations in athletic magazines in the 1880s and 1890s that featured Watson images and early photographs,” says Al Nasir. “It seemed identical to me. I thought, ‘We have the same last name, we come from the same place in Demerara in Guyana, we have to be related.’

Andrew Watson played for Scotland and played for London Swifts, Corinthians, Park Grove and Queens Park.

Andrew Watson played for Scotland and played for London Swifts, Corinthians, Park Grove and Queens Park. Photography: Historia y Arte Collection / Alamy

Al Nasir began around 18 years of research and the result has brought mixed emotions.

“I managed to find out not only that it was related to Andrew Watson, but also the connection through slavery. His father, Peter Miller Watson, ran a massive slave corporation based in Liverpool and Glasgow, a corporation called Sandbach, Tinne & Company.

“Peter Miller Watson ran all his plantations in Demerara, filled all his ships with all the profits from those plantations (sugar, rum, molasses, coffee) and received and sold the slaves that were being imported to work on the West African plantations. . He had a brother named William Robertson Watson, who was a plantation supervisor in a province called Berbice in eastern British Guiana. I went there in 2008 to try and find anything I could find about Watson.

“I managed to locate my long-lost family and my cousins ​​actually lived on land inherited directly from Andrew Watson’s uncle: his father’s brother, William Robertson Watson. I was able to trace my ancestry back to him. So that connected me not just to Andrew Watson but to the whole conglomerate of slave owners that his father belonged to, which was one of the largest slave trading merchant operations of the 19th century. “

Andrew Watson, seated center, with the Scotland team in 1881.

Andrew Watson, seated center, with the Scotland team in 1881. Photo: Scottish Football Museum

Al Nasir experienced racism from a young age, initially in the care system that he was welcomed into at age nine in 1975 after his father suffered a stroke, and then at Anfield, where he went to games with a friend who met in care, Colin.

“I had been put into some pretty rough and crooked institutions, locked in solitary confinement, in places behind bars,” he says. Anfield was a relief. “It was incredibly exciting. I had been incarcerated all week in an institution where I had no family, no parents, no one showed me kindness, love or support. It was in a pretty brutal place. The people who worked at that institution were incredibly hostile towards me for being a black kid. I was one of the few black children in the institution. “

Paying 35p to get into the Boys’ Pen at Anfield, he and Colin sailed over the railings and barbed wire to the Kop. Al Nasir loved going to the front to see a particular player.

“Stevie Heighway used to come up the band like lightning, and then he would throw in the center. You knew Kevin Keegan was somewhere in the middle and there would be a goal. I’ve never seen anyone with that speed. The next time I saw someone with that kind of speed it was Raheem Sterling. “

On August 27, 1977, when Liverpool hosted West Bromwich Albion, everything changed for Al Nasir. Unable to enter the full Boys’ Pen, he and Colin parted ways at the end of Anfield Road, where fans weren’t apart. Albion had Laurie Cunningham on his side and before the players emerged, a fight broke out in the stands, with the shout: “The National Front is the front of a white man, join the National Front.”

Kenny Dalglish in action against West Brom in August 1977, the last game Malik Al Nasir attended at Anfield.

Kenny Dalglish in action against West Brom in August 1977, the last game Malik Al Nasir attended at Anfield. Photograph: Manchester Daily Express / SSPL / Getty Images

Al Nasir’s Welsh mother had warned him about the National Front. Fearing for his life, he fled Anfield, crying all the way back to his mother’s house, which he was allowed to visit every weekend, and tore up his Panini sticker album, vowing never to attend another match.

His only return to Anfield, in 2018, was for a benefit dinner for the city’s and Britain’s first mosque. “All I could think about was laying eyes on the sacred grass. I guess somehow I got closure. “

After leaving the care system at age 18, semi-literate and unskilled, she worked in the hospitality industry. In 1984, when American artist and activist Gil Scott-Heron came to perform at the Royal Court Theater in Liverpool, Al Nasir’s life changed forever.

A photographer friend took him backstage and he was mesmerized by the Scott-Heron concert. The two met and Scott-Heron inquired about the 1981 Toxteth riots.

“I took him around Toxteth and showed him what was going on. The next day he said, ‘Why don’t you come see us? We have a day off. ‘ I said, ‘Okay, let me cook you a meal.’ I cashed my Giro check, bought a lot of food, borrowed my friend’s flat because I couldn’t put him in a homeless shelter, and he brought his entire entourage back. There were about 17 people. “The menu included snapper and mango juice.

Gil Heron playing for Celtic in 1951.

Gil Heron playing for Celtic in 1951. Photograph: Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Al Nasir was asked to tour with the group. He helped set up teams, with merchandising, security, and in whatever way he could. Scott-Heron took Al Nasir under his wing and what emerged was that his father Gil Heron was a Celtic striker who made five appearances and scored twice between 1951-52.

Gil Heron senior was known as the black arrow and was Celtic’s first black player. Gil [Scott-Heron] He loved the Scottish fans, he had an absolute affinity with the Scottish fans and particularly when we went to Glasgow. It was hard for me to imagine what it must have been like for him because his father had left the United States when he was a child and gone to Glasgow to play for Celtic. Every time we came to Glasgow, Gil always made sure to tell the public that his father used to play for Celtic. “

Gil Scott-Heron died in 2011. “I miss him so much. He was guiding me through all those years that I was developing from that semi-literate boy he met at the Royal Court Theater to the man I am today, where I am studying for a PhD at Cambridge University on the history of my ancestry from behind. slavery.”

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